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Space Pioneers return for Thor program’s 50th anniversary

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Col. David Buck, 30th Space Wing commander, speaks with Chief Master Sgt. (Ret.) Roy Stovall during the Thor Reunion Tour at the Space Launch Complex 2 on Tuesday. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Jonathan Olds)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Col. David Buck, 30th Space Wing commander, speaks with Chief Master Sgt. (Ret.) Roy Stovall during the Thor Reunion Tour at the Space Launch Complex 2 on Tuesday. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Jonathan Olds)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The pioneers responsible for the foundation of Vandenberg's missile mission gathered Tuesday at Space Launch Complex-10 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first successfully launched Thor missile. 

Almost 30 Thor Association members were honored by Jay Prichard, the curator and director of Vandenberg's Heritage Center, as the men of their generation who "got things done" to make America the safe place that it is today. 

The Thor missile was the Air Force's first operational intermediate-range ballistic missile. The innovative crew members of the Thor Association paved the way for the Delta series rockets, Mr. Prichard said. 

"Thor Association members traveled many miles, from different states, to be united again here to enjoy the strong camaraderie that was once made as they were part of a one-of-a-kind unit unique to the entire Air Force," said Eric Lemmon, the principle engineer with Delta II Facilities Engineering. 

The Thor missile laid the ground work for the Delta rocket, from which the Delta derived its design. Delta II is just a modified version of Thor and is still in use today. 

"No other branch of the military did the kind of work that the Thor members did for the Air Force to integrate the space mission of today," Mr. Lemmon said. 

The Thor program began production in January 1956 as a product of the arms race with the Soviet Union which was to be the first to deploy nuclear armed missiles. Before the Air Force took on this project, missile systems were largely in the hands of contractors with little military influence. Within three years of the development the Thor squadron became operational. 

Before the Air Force took on the Thor project, missile systems at the time were largely in the hands of contractors with little military influence. 

"What made Thor unique was the fact that it was operated by a military launch group," said Frank Trainer, a missile maintenance technician and former Thor member from the 392nd Missile Training Squadron. "It was the first launch solely made by a 'blue suit' (Air Force) team." 

During the Thor reunion, the returning association members had plenty of time to visit with one another. Members toured the restored launch pad where many of the Thor members once worked, talking and sharing stories. 

Col. David Buck, the commander of the 30th Space Wing, offered a warm welcome to the visitors and thanked them for their contributions to the Air Force and Vandenberg.
Thor members were later provided an informative tour of both SLC-10 and SLC-2 before the gathering came to a close. 

"We are carrying on the tradition today with the Delta program from the efforts our visitors had set up years ago with Thor," said Don Malin, the site director at SLC-2 from the Delta II program. "The United Launch Alliance organized the reunion in hopes to give the visitors a time to touch base with some of their old friends and reminisce. I hope that they walk away from this realizing that their accomplishments are recognized and appreciated."